2015 Foot Locker Finals: Drew Hunter Dominates With The Most Impressive Win Since Chris Solinsky And Weini Kelati Holds On To Sweep Titles For Virginia
December 12, 2015
For just the second time in history, two runners from the same state swept the boys’ and girls’ titles at the Foot Locker Cross-Country Championships on Saturday as Virginia natives Drew Hunter (Purcellville) and Weini Kelati (Leesburg) were crowned national champions at San Diego’s Balboa Park. Not only do Hunter and Kelati both hail from the same state, they both reside in the same county — Loudoun County — where their high schools are separated by just 11 miles, a short drive along Route 7.
The similarities between the two go beyond the geographic. Both athletes entered Foot Lockers with a plan to attack from the gun, leading to outrageous one-mile splits of 4:31 (Hunter) and 5:13 (Kelati). Hunter already had eight seconds on the field at that point and would lead by as many as 17 seconds en route to a dominating victory in 14:55, the fastest time since Edward Cheserek in 2011. Kelati, a 19-year-old native of Eritrea, had more competition in the girls’ race, but opened up a gap on the final downhill. Though Maryjeanne Gilbert (Peoria, Ill.) made a valiant effort to chase Kelati down over the final quarter mile, she wound up just short as Kelati claimed the title in 17:09.7, with Gilbert just behind in 17:10.6.
Quick race recaps, results and analysis below. We’ll also have more in-depth analysis of Foot Lockers next week.
Boys’ Race: Hunter Cements Himself As the Nation’s Top Runner with Astounding Front-Running Display
Hunter entered the race as the heavy favorite and the question on most observers’ minds wasn’t “Who will win?” but “How fast will Hunter go?” Would the 8:42 two-miler take a shot at Reuben Reina’s 14:36 course record or would he be content to use his 4:02 mile speed to sit and kick on the rest of the field? 800 meters into the race, we had our answer as Hunter led the field through in 2:13. Everyone else quickly realized that was way too fast to be running in a cross country race, but Hunter’s immense talent allows him to try things other high schoolers would never dare. He hit the mile in 4:31.6, eight seconds in front, and though he slowed to 9:25 at two miles (after running the course’s main hill for the first time), his lead ballooned to 17 seconds at the two-mile mark as Phillip Rocha (Azusa, Calif.) and Ben Veatch (Carmel, Ind.) were the closest men to him.
Hunter continued to press over the final mile, and though Reina’s course record slipped away, he held on to record a historic performance, joining the elite group of men to have broken 15:00 on the Balboa Park course. The clock stopped at 14:55.7; Rocha crossed 12.2 seconds later, just ahead of Veatch, making Hunter’s the largest margin of victory since Lukas Verzbicas won by 15 seconds in 2009.
Boys analysis at the end of the article.
PLACE TIME BIB NAME GRADE REGION SCHOOL CITY STATE ‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐
1 14:55.7 61 Drew Hunter 12 South Loudoun Valley H.S. Purcellville VA
2 15:07.9 82 Phillip Rocha 12 West Arcadia High School Azusa CA
3 15:09.6 73 Ben Veatch 12 Midwest Carmel H.S. Carmel IN
4 15:14.7 81 Garek Bielaczyc 12 West East High School Salt Lake City UT
5 15:15.6 72 Paul Roberts 12 Midwest Lyons H.S. Boulder CO
6 15:16.6 74 Andrew Jordan 12 Midwest Watkins Memorial H.S. Pataskala OH
7 15:20.9 53 Conor Lundy 12 Northeast Fordham Preparatory School Yonkers NY
8 15:21.0 52 Jake Brophy 12 Northeast Central Bucks H.S. East New Hope PA
9 15:27.6 76 Seth Hirsch 11 Midwest Millard West H.S. Omaha NE
10 15:28.6 88 Michael Vernau 11 West Davis Senior High School Davis CA
11 15:29.0 78 Finn Gessner 11 Midwest La Follette H.S. Madison WI
12 15:29.1 84 Dylan Scarsone 12 West Canyon (Anaheim) HS Orange CA
13 15:32.0 71 Jonathan Davis 12 Midwest Oakwood H.S. Oakwood IL
14 15:32.6 62 Gannon Willcutts 12 South Western Albemarle H.S. Crozet VA
15 15:33.0 51 Noah Affolder 11 Northeast Carthage Central H.S. Fort Drum NY
16 15:33.9 64 Reed Brown 11 South Carroll Senior H.S. Grapevine TX
17 15:35.0 63 Jonathan Lomogda 12 South Cox H.S. Virginia Beach VA
18 15:35.6 55 Eric van der Els 12 Northeast Brien McMahon H.S. Norwalk CT
19 15:39.9 59 Gabe Altopp 12 Northeast Ridgefield H.S. Ridgefield CT
20 15:40.5 56 Viraj Deokar 12 Northeast Middlesex School Acton MA
21 15:43.1 75 Brayden Law 12 Midwest Homestead H.S. Fort Wayne IN
22 15:44.0 90 Jackson Mestler 12 West Sheldon High School Eugene OR
23 15:44.6 79 Isaac Harding 12 Midwest Rockford H.S. Grand Rapids MI
24 15:44.7 77 Matthew Pereira 11 Midwest Lake Zurich H.S. Kildeer IL
25 15:45.2 87 Justin Janke 12 West North Central High School Spokane WA
26 15:46.5 54 Joshua Clark 12 Northeast Highland Regional H.S. Blackwood NJ
27 15:46.6 86 Jack Van Scoter 12 West Flintridge Prepartory School Pasadena CA
28 15:50.0 85 Tibebu Proctor 11 West The Northwest School Seattle WA
29 15:51.6 66 Waleed Suliman 11 South Douglas S. Freeman H.S. Henrico VA
30 15:55.5 57 Joseph Dragon 12 Northeast High Point Regional H.S. Sussex NJ
31 15:55.9 70 Steven Cross 12 South Merritt Island H.S. Merritt Island FL
32 15:58.7 68 Joshua Jacques 12 South Lyman H.S. Casselberry FL
33 16:00.2 80 Christian Noble 12 Midwest Mt. Vernon H.S. Greenfield IN
34 16:03.6 89 Connor Arnell 12 West Lehi High School Saratoga Springs UT
35 16:06.8 58 Matt Grossman 11 Northeast Millburn H.S. Millburn NJ
36 16:17.1 60 Marcelo Rocha 11 Northeast Peabody Veterans Memorial H.S. Peabody MA
37 16:20.2 83 Talon Hull 11 West Weber High School Ogden UT
38 16:25.6 67 Cole Dowdy 12 South South Oldham H.S. Crestwood KY
39 16:42.9 69 Micah Pratt 11 South Homeschool Lynchburg VA
Girls’ Race: Kelati Goes Wire-to-Wire Despite Late Charge from Gilbert
Like Hunter, Kelati took it out hard and at the half-mile mark, she made her first hard surge, opening up a 20-meter gap by the mile (5:13) stringing the pack out behind her. However, the chase pack of Judy Pendergast (Naperville, Ill.), Taylor Werner (Bloomsdale, Mo.) and Maryjeanne Gilbert (Peoria, Ill.) began closing her down during mile two and by the top of the hill, Gilbert was level with Kelati. Those two had a four-second lead at 1.5 miles, but Pendergast and Nevada Mareno (Raleigh, N.C.) worked to reel them back in on the flat section of the course and all four were together at two miles in 10:55.
As they climbed the hill for the second time, Mareno and Kelati gained separation, with Kelati a step or two ahead of Mareno. She worked to extend that lead on the downhill and entering the homestretch at the three-mile mark, she had several seconds on the field.
This one wasn’t over, however, as Gilbert came from way back to make a last-ditch attempt to catch Kelati and began rapidly narrowing the gap. Had the race been 100 meters longer, she may well have succeeded, but as it was, Kelati had enough to hold her off, winning by just under a second in 17:09.7. Gilbert, who was just third at the Midwest Regional, was a well-deserved second while Mareno hung on for third.
PLACE TIME BIB NAME GRADE REGION SCHOOL CITY STATE ‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐
1. 17:09.7 21 Weini Kelati 11 South Heritage H.S. Leesburg VA
2. 17:10.6 33 Maryjeanne Gilbert 12 Midwest Peoria Notre Dame H.S. Peoria IL
3. 17:17.6 22 Nevada Mareno 11 South Leesville Road H.S. Leesville NC
4. 17:20.0 32 Judy Pendergast 12 Midwest Naperville North H.S. Naperville IL
5. 17:29.8 31 Taylor Werner 12 Midwest Ste. Genevieve H.S. Bloomsdale MO
6. 17:37.3 23 Libby Davidson 11 South E.C. Glass H.S. Lynchburg VA
7. 17:41.2 36 Madison Troy 10 Midwest Grandville H.S. Grandville MI
8. 17:41.7 35 Sarah Leinheiser 11 Midwest Carmel H.S. Carmel IN
9. 17:47.7 29 Logan Morris 12 South Spartanburg Christian Academy Inman SC
10. 17:47.8 19 Sage Hurta 12 Northeast Hamilton Central School Hamilton NY
11. 17:49.3 12 Jessica Lawson 11 Northeast Corning Painted Post H.S. Addison NY
12. 17:49.8 14 Hannah DeBalsi 12 Northeast Staples H.S. Westport CT
13. 17:52.3 37 Aubrey Roberts 12 Midwest Eau Claire Memorial H.S. Eau Claire WI
14. 17:56.6 18 Eleanor Lawler 10 Northeast South Kingstown H.S. Wakefield RI
15. 17:59.2 27 Emma Grace Hurley 12 South Fellowship Christian School Roswell GA
16. 18:04.8 39 Stephanie Jenks 12 Midwest Linn‐Mar H.S. Aurora IA
17. 18:09.2 49 McKenna Lee 10 West Weber High School Pleasant View UT
18. 18:09.8 26 Abby Gray 12 South Alamo Heights H.S. San Antonio TX
19. 18:11.3 24 Lindsay Billings 12 South Northview H.S. John’s Creek GA
20. 18:12.3 50 Jordan Oakes 11 West Holy Names Academy Seattle WA
21. 18:15.9 46 Glennis Murphy 11 West Redwood High School Larkspur CA
22. 18:18.9 41 Annie Hill 10 West Glacier High School Kalispell MT
23. 18:20.5 16 Alyssa Aldridge 10 Northeast Mainland Regional H.S. Linwood NJ
24. 18:21.1 43 Olivia Hoj 12 West Olympus High School Salt Lake City UT
25. 18:21.9 47 Nikki Zielinski 12 West Canyon (Anaheim) HS Anaheim Hills CA
26. 18:22.4 44 Stefani Gaskell 12 West Sultana High School Hesperia CA
27. 18:22.6 13 Maria Coffin 11 Northeast Annapolis H.S. Annapolis MD
28. 18:24.2 11 Madeleine Davison 12 Northeast Homeschool Wexford PA
29. 18:25.5 15 Briana Gess 11 Northeast Haddonfield Memorial H.S. Haddonfield NJ
30. 18:28.2 17 Ariel Keklak 12 Northeast Lincoln‐Sudbury Regional H.S. Sudbury MA
31. 18:28.5 42 Kate Hunter 11 West Provo High School Provo UT
32. 18:29.9 45 Kristen Garcia 10 West Sedro‐Woolley High School Sedro‐Woolley WA
33. 18:31.4 40 Kayla Young 11 Midwest Denver North H.S. Westminster CO
34. 18:32.2 30 Anna Vess 12 South A.C. Reynolds H.S. Fairview NC
35. 18:32.8 38 Emma Wilson 12 Midwest Romeo H.S. Washington MI
36. 18:36.9 25 Julia Heymach 11 South M.B. Lamar H.S. Houston TX
37. 18:44.5 20 Kathryn Munks 12 Northeast Monroe Woodbury H.S. Chester NY
38. 18:51.7 48 Emily Virtue 10 West John Burroughs High School Burbank CA
39. 18:59.8 28 Savannah Carnahan 12 South South Forsyth H.S. Suwanee GA
40. 19:12.2 34 Lauren Johnson 12 Midwest West Lafayette H.S. West Lafayette IN
Quick Take #1: Drew Hunter’s performance was one of the most impressive of the last 15 years
We’ll be able to better assess Hunter’s run after Tully Runners releases their speed ratings, but for now Hunter’s run has to rank up there as one of the best since Chris Solinsky’s in 2002. Solinsky ran 14:41 and won by 20 seconds, so Hunter’s clearly not touching that performance. But his run today stacks up well against anything anyone has done since then. Here’s his main competition:
Edward Cheserek, 2011
Cheserek ran 14:52, three seconds faster than Hunter, but he did that by sitting and kicking on Futsum Zienasellassie. Put Hunter and 2011 Cheserek head-to-head and 2011 Cheserek may well win (as Cheserek has shown at the University of Oregon, he rarely gives more than he needs to win) but what Hunter did today — ripping apart the FL field — is more impressive than Cheserek’s one-second win in 2011.
Lukas Verzbicas, 2009
Verzbicas won by more than Hunter (15 seconds vs. 12) but he only ran 15:08 to do so. Advantage, Hunter.
Mike Fout, 2007
Now we’ve got a real argument. Fout ran five seconds faster than Hunter, and though he didn’t win by as much (only seven seconds), he beat a really strong field: Chris Derrick, German Fernandez, Colby Lowe and Luke Puskedra went 2-4 and all would become immediate factors in the NCAA the following year. Fout didn’t separate until early in the third mile (he hung back after Puskedra took the race out in 4:28), so he didn’t dominate to the same degree, but given the time and competition, you can make a case for Fout over Hunter.
Matt Withrow, 2003
Withrow only won by two seconds, but the combination of his legendary move with 300 to go, his 14:55 winning time and the strength of his opposition (Galen Rupp, Josh McDougal and Ben True all finished in the top five) makes his performance truly impressive.
We’d give the edge to Hunter’s performance today over all of those runs, and here’s why: this race was OVER by two miles, probably earlier than that. Hunter dominated all year and once he took off it became obvious that no one could touch him. Hunter led by 17 seconds at two miles. That is more impressive to us than what Cheserek or Fout did, even though they ran faster, because the outcome was still in doubt in the final mile of the race.
No matter how you slice it, this was a magnificent run by Hunter, and given that he’s already racked up some serious track accomplishments, he looks to be on track for a fine collegiate and professional career. But look at the names we just compared him to (except for Solinsky who had a more impressive performance): only Cheserek is still relevant in the running world today. Even a dominant performance at Foot Locker is no guarantee of professional success.
We’ll also give Hunter props for making it an honest race and truly testing his body’s limits. The primary goal of a top runner in any race is always to win, but too often heavy favorites like Cheserek or Mo Farah are content to allow the pace to lag before sprinting away in the race’s final stages. That’s a completely valid strategy, but in the case where there’s a heavy favorite, it can be more exciting to see that guy test his limits rather than running at 80% for the majority of the race before destroying everyone at the end. Post race Hunter told DyeStat:
“It’s all I could ask for honestly. A year ago I wasn’t pleased with my race and had all year to think about how I could redeem myself. There is no better way I could have gone out. … I wanted to run the first mile hard. If people were pushing me at two miles (the record) might have been within reach. I (wanted) to show that I could dominate the race. I had a ton of confidence in myself. … I was just going out there and thinking about each move I was going to make. It didn’t hit me until the last stretch that this is all I’ve wanted (all season) and it’s a great way to end my senior year of cross country.”
Quick Take #2: Where does Kelati go from here?
Kelati is 19 years old, which makes her ineligible to compete against high schoolers next year, but she does not graduate from high school until 2017. She’s not good enough to run professionally (at least not without American citizenship), so she may have to rely on open meets next year before enrolling in college in the fall of 2017. It’s a tough situation. Obviously it’s not fair for Kelati to run against high schoolers next year, but she also won’t be able to run USAs or NCAAs either. Hopefully she and coach Douglas Gilbert can figure something out as Kelati is clearly very talented.
Quick Take #3: Attention Foot Locker: Improve your webcast
Foot Locker is a terrific meet and the organizers do a great job making the athletes feel like VIPs and creating a grand stage on which to race. And that’s why it’s so disappointing that the webcast continues to be poor. The feed from the lead Gator went out late in the girls’ race and remained out for most of the boys’ race as we were forced to hear the announcers describe Hunter’s historic run instead of watching it live.
If Foot Locker is going to commit resources to streaming the race, it needs to make sure that people can actually watch it, and in recent years, that has not been the case (we also complained about the horrible webcast last year). It’s especially bad when you compare it to NXN, which has put on a great webcast in each of the past two years.
Quick Take #4: Notre Dame and Oregon pick up more talent
Oregon has consistently been one of the premier destinations for distance talent, and it’s not a surprise that Hunter will be heading to Eugene next year, along with NXN champ Katie Rainsberger. With Hunter and Austin Tamagno in this year’s recruiting class, plus megatalents Tanner Anderson, Matthew Maton and Blake Haney already in Eugene, the Ducks should be just fine even after Edward Cheserek leaves in 2017.
Notre Dame is quickly becoming a go-to destination for top women’s recruits, and it would not be a surprise to see the Irish challenging for a national title in XC in the years to come. Maryjeanne Gilbert, the top senior in the girls’ race today, is going to ND next year (it helps that she’s from Peoria, about three-and-a-half hours from South Bend, and goes to Peoria Notre Dame High School), joining last year’s Foot Locker champ Anna Rohrer. Notre Dame was eighth at NCAAs this fall with three freshmen in its top five (including Rohrer) and though it loses top runner Molly Seidel, her individual victory will surely be a boon for recruiting. Coach Matt Sparks has done a great job turning the program around in South Bend since arriving in 2014 and the team could reach even greater heights in the years to come.